More women living with HIV in Namibia

By Paulina Ndalikokule

NAMIBIA is experiencing a matured generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic with over 200,000 people currently living with HIV between the ages of 15 and older, of which more than 50% are women. This was revealed by Health and Social Services Minister Kalumbi Shangula at the commemoration of World Aids Day in Windhoek this week.

This year’s national theme was ‘Accelerating Efforts Towards Epidemic Control and Ending Aids In Namibia By 2030’. The global theme was ‘Communities Make the Difference’.

World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year and offers an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

He noted that the disease has affected mostly the northern parts of the country, with Zambezi region topping the list at 22.3% infection rate; Ohangwena 17.9%; Omusati 16.9%; Oshana 15.8; Kavango East 14.5% and Kavango West at 12.1%.

Shangula said a survey conducted recently indicated that the HIV prevalence rate was 12.6% among adults aged 15-64 years with annual incidence at 0.36% for persons in that age group. “In fact the overall picture is that prevalence has decreased to 12% and viral [load suppression] surpassed international targets, especially among Namibian women,” he said.

He said the survey results show that Namibia has surpassed the UNAIDS 90:90:90 targets.

According to UNAIDS, the fast track target means that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have suppressed the viral load.

Shangula also called for increased efforts to achieve the national objectives as Namibia moves toward UNAIDS 95:95:95 fast track target.

“It is a collective responsibility to ensure the safety, health and prosperity of our communities. I urge you and all of us to hold hands and ensure that we defeat HIV/AIDS in Namibia,” he added.

Also speaking at the event, First Lady Monica Geingos encouraged parents to have honest conversations with their children, especially about disclosing their HIV status.

“There are too many young people finding out that they are HIV positive since birth in a manner that is not desirable. Too many people are being told by their grandparents, who raised them that the pills they are taking daily are vitamin pills,” Geingos said.

In the same vein, United States Ambassador Lisa Johnson said HIV remains the number one cause of death in Namibia. She said with partnerships between the two governments and the United Nations they were able to introduce a new advanced tenofovir/lamivudine/dolutegravir (TLD), a drug with fewer side-effects.

The ambassador said the TLD drug is globally acknowledged as the best medication for the treatment of HIV for the majority of patients and can improve the lives of people living with HIV.

“TLD is a great benefit for Namibia and for the individuals who will receive this medication. If you are HIV positive and you take the HIV medication daily… the virus [will be suppressed and] cannot be detected in your body and you cannot pass it to others,” Johnson stressed.

Worldwide, approximately 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV last year. That includes 37,832 people in the U.S and associated territories. In eastern and southern Africa, where 7% of the population aged 15 to 49 are HIV-positive, there were 800,000 new infections in 2018.

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through bodily fluids, including blood, breast milk and semen. HIV can still not be cured but it can be effectively managed. According to WHO, around 32 million people have died of AIDS, but with the right treatment, an HIV-positive status is no longer a death sentence, but a manageable health condition.